Saturday, December 5, 2015

Robert Loggia, 1930-2015

Veteran actor Robert Loggia, who appeared in a varied selection of movies and TV shows over a 60-year career, has died at the age of 85. One of his early films that I recently got around to watching off of my DVR is The Garment Jungle.

Lee J. Cobb plays Walter Mitchell, who owns Roxton Fashions, one of the companies working in the garment district of New York City. His partner Kenner has a serious disagreement with him. The ILGWU has been organizing all of the garment industry, but Roxton hasn't unionized yet. Mitchell wants to make certain it stays that way, but Kenner is willing to unionize. After their argument ends with the viewer getting the feeling that Mitchell is never going to give in to Kenner, Kenner leaves the upper-floor offices to go down to the heart of the business, the lower floors where they actually make the garments. Kenner gets in the elevator and pushes the button to go down... but the elevator never stops until it crashes at the bottom of the shaft, killing Kenner!

It should be plain as day to everybody, even if they haven't read the sort of synopsis that shows up on the box guide or at the various web sites, that this elevator malfunction was no accident. That, and it should be obvious who caused it. No, not Mitchell, but the muscle he's hired to keep the union from organizing Roxton's workers. The head of that muscle outfit is Ravidge (Richard Boone), and he's making a fairly tidy sum off of keeping the union out, although apparently not as much as Mitchell would have to pay out to the workers if they did unionize.

Into all of this walks Walter's son Alan (Kerwin Matthews). He's been of serving in the military for the past several years, and has decided that perhaps joining the family business isn't such a bad idea. So he's come home after all this time and immediately goes to work for Dad. He's shocked by what he discovers going on at the plant, although there's no way he could have been so naïve as not to know that Dad had been paying a protection racket to keep the union from organizing. But now that he finally gets to see it with his own eyes, he sees it's something that really has to end, and if Dad doesn't end it, he's going to find somebody who can stand up to the protection racket.

Which is where Loggia comes in. He plays Tulio Renata, the Italian-American ILGWU man trying to organize the workers at Roxton, with no success so far even though there are quite a few workers who wouldn't mind being part of the ILGWU. He's married to a young woman Theresa (Gia Scala) and has a child. Theresa is worried about Tulio, since he seems to love the union as much, if not more, as he loves her, and fears that the protection rackets are goign to get to Tulio. You could see Alan taking a shine to Theresa if she weren't married.

The Garment Jungle is reasonably well made, but it's formulaic and way too reminiscent of other movies with similar plot lines. It's nowhere near as good as, say, On the Waterfront (which also had Cobb in the cast), but certainly better than something like The Woman on Pier 13. Part of the problem is that the characters are just too sharply drawn, being either unabashedly virtuous or else irredeemably bad. There's none of the complexity in the characters played by Marlon Brando and Eva-Marie Saint in On the Waterfront. Still, The Garment Jungle is certainly worth a watch.

The Garment Jungle did get a DVD release, although I don't know if it's still in print. You can certainly get it at Amazon, but not from the TCM Shop.

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